Snowed in and called off we will have a week’s wait for member Gerry Painter’s evening. Something to look forward to. So this week, through the rattle of ice rain on the living room window, which rather underlines the soundness of the decision to call things off, we are going to talk about connecting with our images.
When looking for something to photograph, chance, as we have often reiterated in this blog, falls to the prepared. There is, however, a difference between what fine art photographer Cig Harvey calls “Target Practice” and telling a story, and a personal story, rather than the story of someone else. Now you don’t have to go to quite the same limits as she went to, only shooting in one room for a year, but taking responsibility for everything in the frame and avoiding the “Yeah buts’”. That is, doing it, rather along the lines we talked of in the last blog, because we are not all full time artists.
Photography is a channel to put our thoughts in. Cig Harvey again. This is a particular form of photography, the fine art angle, but don’t we do this consciously or subconsciously, anyway? This, at least in part, is improvement as a continuous process, because the stories never stop, we just switch them off at some point. We are all taking a little moment in history and slicing away at the baggage that surrounds it and showing a truth. Or maybe just taking drunken snaps on the camera phone during an after work drinks session. Maybe something in between, but for those of us who take our art even a little more seriously, there is the recognition of something achieved, with a little something to take forward to the next frame. Basically, “Yes, and …”
Fine art most of us would think beyond us, but we have all taken that sort of image at some time or other, even if by accident. Indeed the definition of what fine art might be in photography isn’t even settled definitively. It is, on one level, peoples’ bread and butter. But not all fine art photographers are fine art artists making a living. Most, I suspect, are on the amateur level – which doesn’t make them averse to making money from their photography, just means it’s not a regular source of income. Essentially “Fine art photography is photography created in accordance with the vision of the artist as photographer”, which tells us next to nothing because it doesn’t include much and really doesn’t exclude anything apart from the implication that if you are not an “Artist” you cannot be a fine art photographer.
That Wikipedia definition does try and make such a deliniation, but even so the misses the potential irony (neigh sarcasm) behind Picasso’s statement that “I have discovered photography. Now I can kill myself. I have nothing else to learn”, but does give room to John Steinbeck’s comment on Robert Capa “… That the camera need not be a cold mechanical device. Like the pen, it is as good as the man who uses it. It can be the extension of mind and heart…” The whole “Is photography art?”debate is endless and, frankly, sterile. It will never be conclusively settled and is as much about fashion as it about metaphysical discussions of meaning and being. Maybe it’s all what the Journalist Fyfe Robertson labelled Phart, but I think that rather misses the point.
Exclusivity certainly plays a part in the discussion. Certainly it is not all of it. Vision, idea, technique, a body if work all have their place and frequently find their way into this blog and our Thursday evenings and hopefully seep into our practice. As illustrated last week this doesn’t have to be a long practice but mulling it over, working the idea into a concept, finding the materials it needs, getting everything together then executing the shot can be the fruit of days, weeks, months, years. Doesn’t make it any better or worse to look at, but the effect on the photographer as the centre of this whirl does make it something more than the recording of a play of light on a subject.
Above all it is an attitude, a desire and a great deal of persistence that makes an artist, regardless of medium. It doesn’t have to be on a grand scale, especially when practising, and it doesn’t have to be to please anyone else but ourselves, but I suppose most of us take photographs to show others. Over time though we develop our own photographic fingerprint, but standing in the same place Ansel Adams stood and point our camera at the same vista as Ansel Adams pointed his at at the same time of day as Ansel Adams did at the same time of year as Ansel Adams did does not mean we get the same picture that Ansel Adams got, much less make us Ansel Adams. All we do get is the same thing every other photographer got doing the same, at best a downscale Ansel Adams look a like picture. It is instructive to do what the masters of the medium did and do, but is of little value if we cannot make those images we make our own. Afterall access to the original completed file or negative means we can run copies faithful to the original ad infinitum.
Which is one of the arguments that some people propose to strip photography of the idea that it might be art. Art is an artefact, it is made, it is up to us to make up our own minds what we consider art or otherwise.
Light painting, the more advanced bit, with guest Tony Cullen and our own Myk Garton and what an evening it was too. Lots of good stuff going on and some special images. It showed us that some forethought and planning, lights from various sources and a willingness to experiment and you can get some very interesting results. On the cheap too. With virtually no DIY skills you can come up with a variety of home-made or shop-bought resources (usually a mixture of the two) which can have some very interesting effects. Thanks also to Mark for another of his ladies-in-boxes, odd hobby but there you go, this one very shiny. Members can see results that have been posted to the club Facebook page and the club Flickr page is always worth checking out, of course.
As we have previously circumnavigated light painting over the course of this blog, and you can get as detailed as you wish with it, there are plenty of articles and videos to watch out there, we will do a little tour of a couple of things that caught my eye in the photographic press this week. Basically I am going to take the bullet points in an article that chimed and try and get the great photographers to comment on them. With a little bit of commentary by yours truly.
There were two articles on Petapixel, taken from different perspectives of the photographic experience, lessons learned from a new-to-it and someone who had been shooting for 15 years (professionally). The one I am going to take up is the newbie, by Marcus V Petri, worrying that, after a year and 5,000 frames, he is not making the progress that he thinks he should ” Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst“. – Henri Cartier-Bresson.
This is an interesting point as it speaks to “keepers”, which really is the point for everyone, is it not? Part of being a professional, or even a more experienced amateur, is taking very careful control of what you let be seen. This will be a tiny proportion of the shutter actuations. He writes “I’m the type of person that takes hundreds of pictures at slightly different angles and then I chose one that is best. I envy those who just go there, take one great shot, and done”. I am sceptical of those who just go there, take one great shot, and done. There are two ways this happens.
One is dumb luck, possibly moderated by having learned from the past and is never consistent. The other is from a rigorous and time consuming planning and execution process that takes days, weeks, months possibly years. Or you have a battery of assistants who do the spade work and you turn up and press the shutter so that it is “your picture”. Some very expensive photographic workshops run like this, making everything feel seamless – a huge amount of work before and after goes on to make it this way – just so that the client goes away with great shots – also some light painting sessions I have recently attended – which may or may not be down to the quality of the tutoring but is the whole point of the business. The one shot idea is actually corrosive to learning the craft, the idea that you take the one great shot only, then what do you do? “Everyone will take one great picture, I’ve done better because I’ve taken two” – David Bailey. Ansel Adams was a little more generous: “ Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop“.
“There is no such thing as a ‘non-processed pictures.'(sic) Every picture is processed, even the analog ones. Even your eyes process what they are seeing”. As I have expressed the same opinion many times in these posts I can hardly aver. “ You don’t take a photograph, you make it“. – Ansel Adams or more philosophically: “The magic of photography is metaphysical. What you see in the photograph isn’t what you saw at the time. The real skill of photography is organized visual lying”. – Terence Donovan – Guardian (London, 19 Nov. 1983) Or as Bailey put it: “It takes a lot of imagination to be a good photographer. You need less imagination to be a painter, because you can invent things. But in photography everything is so ordinary; it takes a lot of looking before you learn to see the ordinary“. “Face,” (London), Dec 1984.
Actually, in the second article I referred to a very similar point is made: “A photo is an extraction. It is a simplification. It is reality seen through certain limitations. It is those limitations that make a photo. Four straight edges and a 2D simplification of reality. You need those limitations to make this an art—if you are trying to 100% capture reality you are not taking a photo and it doesn’t make sense. A photo is a haiku. 17 syllables and done. Without those walls, you’re lost. So embrace the walls and find a way to express everything there is between them. There will always be something outside the walls, but that’s okay too. Do what you can and that’s all you can do“. Patrick Beggan, Petapixel.com, 5 Dec 2016.
“You and the people you know will usually prefer different pictures. My favorites (sic) are rarely my most popular photos”. “There is no special way a photograph should look“. – Garry Winogrand.
All in all if you take the two articles n comparison you can see two poles of the same journey, in some ways. We all do this journey, it doesn’t matter how many years we have been doing photography if we are serious then we will be on it. It doesn’t have a final destination we are always at a way station somewhere towards the last frame we ever take. Good to see that we are not alone though.
Quotes from www.photoquote.com
N E X T M E E T I N G.
R.O.C. Round 2 judging.